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This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader
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This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,190 ratings  ·  145 reviews
Joan Dye Gussow is an extraordinarily ordinary woman. She lives in a home not unlike the average home in a neighborhood that is, more or less, typically suburban. What sets her apart from the rest of us is that she thinks more deeply - and in more eloquent detail- about food. In sharing her ponderings, she sets a delightful example for those of us who seek the healthiest, ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 1st 2001 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  1,190 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: home-library
This book was given to me after two of my friends devoured it and sang its praises from the rooftops. I was psyched to read it. Locavorism! Sustainability! Gardening! Recipes! That sounds like something I would adore!

I suppose I probably would have adored it if not for two things, only one of which is the fault of this book: 1) I read it right after tearing through the Hunger Games series. I'd wager that no book could fare well with that trilogy immediately preceding it. Where I found those irre
Kate Singh
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed it at first. I wound up skimming the rest. It's about an older couple that buys river font property with an old home that winds up being rotten all the way to the frame. The book is the experience of tearing down and rebuilding a home and the comfort they take in the huge garden, the river they live on, and the stress of a crazy neighbor (we all must have one). I grew tired of the story after a few chapters.
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is part memoir, part essay collection with the central topic of growing food and local-based agriculture. It was published in 2001, so written likely in the late 1990’s so it was written as the local food movement was beginning to pick up steam (at least I think so). The initial chapters of the book follow Joan and her husband Alan as they build the house in Piermont, NY where they plan to live the last part of their life. The latter part of the book is a little less cohesive but loose ...more
Susan Connell Biggs
While I really do love books where you get to witness other peoples' lives, this one didn't quite do it for me. There seemed to be a greater focus on the frustrations of trying to build a garden and a house where probably neither belonged than real learning about sustainable gardening. Why, if you are as committed to sustainability, build on a plot of land along a river but below the flood line? Why if you've been living in a house for 30 years that never felt like a good fit, would you not be m ...more
Apr 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Although I did enjoy Plenty, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which are books with a similar themes, this is the book that really spoke to me about gardening and its importance to the health of our bodies and our planet. I want to be Joan Dye Gussow when I grow up! Given the 2001 publication date, I think this book may have been an inspiration to the previous authors in their endeavors. I like that, for Gussow, this is a way of life for her. Some years she eats all of her produce out of the garden ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was ho-hum until I read the chapter about her drowning a possum, which is disgusting and unnecessary. She had talked of illegally trapping and setting them free in the woods before, and after drowning the poor creature found a wildlife rescuer neighbor who would take the baby skunk she trapped. I don't know why it was suddenly not an option to release the animal into the woods when you might not get fined even if someone did see you. I was weirded out the rest of the book, but I'm not ...more
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: culinary
The dust jacket copy promises that Gussow presents "a version of The Good Life that is with the grasp of all of us." This is not true. Gussow's efforts to make sure she and her husband eat only the vegetables that they grow and that there is a large variety of said vegetables takes an amount of work that most of would not or could not commit to given our circumstances and nature.

What is true is that Gussow's gardens are amazing, prolific, and surprisingly varied, as are her efforts to preserve
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, food-writing
The most remarkable thing about this book, for me, was picturing my parents' house in Massachusetts while reading about the house that Joan and Alan bought along the Hudson River. I guess because my mother has always had a garden and the house they recently bought is an old farmhouse. Anyway, this is an illuminating book about a woman's quest to grow as much of her own food as she can, and an informative look at our food system. It's also interesting to learn about the adventure/drama of their " ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I think if I had read this book before reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver it would have had a bigger impact on me than it did today. While I enjoyed it, and can see why Joan is considered a matriarch of the local food movement, I still had many moments where I questioned certain choices she made. Perhaps it's because I've lately been studying permaculture, but her chapter on dealing with gardening pests seemed almost completely self inflicted. Planting companion plants to b ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it liked it
This book took me 8 months to read, partly because the first 6 chapters were a slog. After that it was full of useful information (for a novice gardener in New York’s Hudson valley). This woman went to great lengths to grow the majority of the food she ate and it’s admirable and informative. I particularly enjoyed the last several chapters, but think you have to be committed to learning about gardening in the Hudson valley for me to recommend this.
Elisabeth Ensor
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was incredibly inspiring and information, there were some parts that got a little tedious to read but overall I was to grow more of my own food and encourage others around me to do the same.
I loved all the seasonal recipes and how eating from the earth just makes sense!!!
May 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Could not get into this at all- abandoned on page 22-
Jennifer Warren
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Inspiring. Good gardening tips, realistic descriptions of actual gardening, good recopes
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great book. I randomly ordered this book as it was a "you may also enjoy" title and I am so happy I did. As a gardener in the same area as Joan Dye Gussow, I related to much of what she talked about. I also had a lot of "ah ha" moments in regards to eating local and growing your own food. It just all make sense and I am so happy I have a little urban homestead here in NJ. I can't wait to read other's written by her and dive into some of the book's she referenced. For anyone that truly car ...more
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, growing
I've been making an effort to reach back farther than Michael Pollan and the new "locavore" movement when I'm thinking about our food sources, nutrition, food production, and that brings me to people like Joan Gussow. Speaking of, Michael Pollan writes: the national conversation unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began in the 1970s, with the work of writers like Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot-conn ...more
R.T. Payne
Apr 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Before there was "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," before there was "The Omnivore's Dilemma," I was lucky enough to stumble across "This Organic Life." (Or maybe my sister gave it to me? It's all an early-20's blur.)

It was a great read, but more importantly, it was an eye-opener. Joan Dye Gussow taught me how to make parsnip pancakes, and that you can actually grow sweet potatoes in Zone 8, and that there are times when being a total pain in the butt in the grocery store is justified for the sake o
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I hadn't heard of This Organic Life before receiving it as a Christmas gift from my sister, but it proved to be a delightful work of garden-inspired thoughts on diet, life, and responsibility. I've already read a number of books in this genre (notably Deep in the Green and Home Ground) but this one took a much more overtly environmental stance than the others, which tend to focus more on the joy of gardening while only brushing against the cultural and societal significance of producing one's ow ...more
I've read this three times now as I really enjoy the story of the garden and the house, with Ms. Gussow's wisdom on food and nutrition as a bonus.
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Take my five stars with a grain of salt as I am an aspiring organic gardener/foodie/locavore/econerd. Reading this brings me back to the realization I have such a looooong way to go. I love Gussow's earthiness, common sense, frugality and her complete lack of concern over what others think of her. Gussow is refreshing in that she does not claim (as many other environmentalists do) that giving up meat entirely will save our planet. She suggests instead that eating MUCH less meat and making sure o ...more
The beginning chapters of "This Organic Life" are a combination of a memoir, a gardening how-to reference, and a cookbook. All of these elements were well written in a random, delightful, meandering manner that made the book exciting and interesting to read. I thought to myself, "What fun it is to read how this woman learned to garden organically and how she moved a million plants and trees to a new house that she and her husband were remodeling. And that recipe looks delicious. I must try it. O ...more
Ellen Bell
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is a memoir chronicling ten or so years of of a nutritionist/local food advocate's life during which she and her husband move, start a new garden, build a new home, and begin a community garden in their new city. The book rambles a lot, getting off topic and then back on again. Nearly the first half of the book is devoted to the tale of Gussow's and her husband's purchase of an old home they attempt to restore, only to find out it must be torn down due to structural deficiencies. This ...more
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
unlike the listing, this book is 261 pages.

a very earnest book. the author is an advocate of local eating, and she uses this book to explore what it means to eat and live locally. well, mostly. she makes a lot of good points about the connectedness of farming to eating and the health of the planet to both, but at times can come across as preachy, which she freely admits in on section of the book.

nevertheless, i had a hard time putting this book down. i think it would have been valuable to have a
Nov 07, 2007 rated it liked it
At first I was mainly astounded by the series of incredibly poor decisions this grown couple made, which led them to buy a very expensive house that regularly flooded, was structurally extremely unsound--this was actually visible to the naked eye--yadda yadda yadda. But the garden they planted (before closing) kept them going. Eh, that was a little worrisome/annoying to me as a reader.

Joan grew on me, though. Like a friend who keeps dating train wrecks and you eventually sigh and tell yourself,
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Reminiscent of "Animal Vegetable Miracle", this is a memoir of a retired professor and her efforts over the years to be self-reliant and raise her own vegetables and fruit. An average writer, I feel like Gussow spends too much time talking about how hard it was working on her old Victorian home, and later on the decrepit home she buys on the bank of the Hudson river. There are some recipes scattered through out, somewhat randomly rather than being strongly incorporated into the text. More than a ...more
A charming and radical book of an old-school nutritionist trying to live out her food ethics. For those who love gardening, home planning, and cooking, you’ll enjoy the charming tale of her building her dream produce garden and dream home (in that order) and the useful gardening and cooking tips. For those of a more progressive bent, you’ll enjoy her cutting edge thinking on local food, food supply issues, and environmental management. What’s really noteworthy is that she manages, for the most p ...more
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was recommended and lent to me by a friend so I felt compelled to read it cover to cover as soon as possible, which is really the only way I managed to get through it. The author's stream of consciousness writing style is highly annoying and frustrating to me. I had to re-read several passages to figure out the timeline of her stories or what she was talking about. At times, she jumps topics without any warning.
I'm not really sure what the point of the book was - but it covers a lot of
Nov 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Organic Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists
I read this third in a mini-series (of my own determination) of books on eating locally, responsibly and sustainably. What started with Plenty, lead to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and finally here. This, published in 2001, was the first chronologically, and given that Barbara Kingsolver is quoted on the cover was obviously influential for at least one of the others. That being said, this is definitely the weightier of the three. Speaking of the information, it must be rated as outstanding. Obviou ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this book because I'm interested in what the author claims to be doing: homesteading in a non-rural setting. She presents some very good information on growing your own produce, and the trials that are faced in doing so. She seems to do an admirable job in producing fruit and vegetables on her suburban flood-prone plot, but it's a little hard to pick out the good information from the surrounding confessions! These confessions give a memoir-like tone to the book. There's a bitter undercurr ...more
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I started her other book first....which follows this story, and I was intrigued enough by that one to read this one before I finished that one. They are written in the same flavor, both of them enjoyable to me because eating local and gardening are becoming more and more important to me as time goes on. This one has recipes for the produce she reaps from her garden and I was sure to bookmark those. She also spurned me on to freeze fresh veggies from the garden because I can't tell you how many t ...more
Mar 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I picked up this book because I am interested in organic gardening to support my family with home-grown food and because I'm taking a creative non-fiction writing class that encompasses the memoir.
This book was really interesting, though Joan does get a little preachy about the environment now and then. This book is not only enjoyable (especially if you like to read about someone else's garden) but it helps you think about issues on eating locally, the vital role of local farmers, and the import
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Joan Gussow is a highly acclaimed nutrition educator who has demonstrated that year-round eating from 1,000 square feet in a suburban riverfront village is possible, life-sustaining, and delicious. She is the author of This Organic Life, The Feeding Web, and Growing, Older and is Mary Swartz Rose Professor Emerita and former chair of the Columbia University Teachers College Nutrition Department. S ...more

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